Monday, July 31, 2006

Physical effects of fasting

Okay, some of this is certainly only relating to me personally, but here are some of the physical effects of an extended fast:


Sharpened sense of smell. You could blindfold me on a busy street and I could point out the various fast food restaurants. I can smell an empty pizza box at a hundred paces. I can tell what the neighbors are having for dinner.

Hunger pangs disappear. On a day-long or probably any fast shorter than three days, I am hungry. But around day four the hunger pangs go away, except for maybe a mild rumble once a day or so.

Sharpened mental faculties. The first few days of a fast I feel sluggish and somewhat in a cloud mentally. But, again, around day four it's like I become a super genius. Okay, that's an exaggeration. But I feel that I can think more clearly.

Toxic dump. One of the first things your body does on a longish fast is to start dumping all of your accumulated toxins. Once they're mostly dumped you start to feel pretty good physically, even though you aren't eating. On the downside, you have probably the worst breath ever, and may even exude nasty smelling toxins through your skin. No, really.

My swollen, angry eye goes away. Since living in East Asia I've had trouble with one eye... it's always swollen and irritated. K was pointing out yesterday that the swelling and redness are mostly gone. What this may tell us: I may have a food allergy. What do I eat every day that people are often allergic to? Milk. So I guess when I start eating again I'll have to lay off my beloved Honey Nut Cheerios for a few days and see what happens. (!)


Decreased blood flow. I find that most of the things I dislike about my physical reaction to fasting come from this. It causes most other things on the list, like--

Cold, so cold. I am wearing a sweater in the middle of summer. Brrr. I need blankets on couches and my wife nearby in bed. I wear socks more often than usual. Note: Fasting in summer is more fun than fasting in winter.

Whhooooh! K asked me last night why I kept sighing when I moved around. Mostly it's because if I don't move slowly enough, I get light-headed. And I'm not used to it yet, so I keep moving too fast.

Muscle fatigue. My muscles cramp up more easily, and just in general get tired. We were painting at the new office on friday and my painting hand kept cramping up.

Fatigue in general. I get tired. Tired and cold. I almost took a nap during "business hours" today but luckily Matt O'Brien called my cel phone at that precise moment. Thanks, Matt! Good save!

Could go either way:

Weight Loss. For me, this is a plus in the sense that I could stand to lose a few pounds. But, on the other hand, your body starts hoarding any food that comes into your system after a fast, so as a weight loss program it's actually pretty stupid. Unless you and Julia Roberts have made a pact to never eat again. Which I don't recommend.

You're likely to gain back most of the weight you lose (or more) on a fast pretty quickly, unless there's some other change in your behavior. I've lost eleven pounds so far, and it seems to have evened out at about a pound a day. Which honestly, is a little frightening, but also fun to check on the scale.

DON'T fast for weight loss purposes. It's not effective, for one thing. And there are easier, less dramatic, more healthy ways to do it.


  1. with all due respect and nods to the dangers of eating disorders, especially in the west, fasting is actually, the ONLY way to lose weight. It is only a matter of degree in a 40 % reduction in caloric intake over years, or a hundred percent, or near hundred percent of caloric intake over days, or even a week or two at a time. You correctly state that if one returns to chronic overeating after a long fast the weight will be gained back. I wouldnt suggest doing it ( chronic overating) then. periodic long fasts are a good way to reduce the urge to eat compusively. Fasting should be a permanent way of living, and im not talking about deep neurological disorders here. I know you dont want to encourage those and therefore the diclaimers. One should become informed however if one is going to fast. And by fasting , one can also learn to "feel" ones body. What it really wants and needs.

  2. Well, I suppose you weren't able to see the context since you probably came in on a search for "physical effects of fasting" but I wasn't really talking about fasting for weight loss, I was talking about it as a spiritual discipline.

    Weight gain in general is easy after an extended fast like I was talking about... the body's metabolism slows down on extended fasts. It doesn't have to be chronic overeating.

    And actually you can lose weight without any decrease in calories, you know. Fasting is NOT the only way to lose weight, it simply isn't. Exercise, for instance. The fact is that fasting in and of itself is not a great weight loss plan, despite its other benefits.